“Late in the evening on Monday, Aug 3, 1998, at 8pm, Govinda Tower collapsed. The description… is that it came down like a pack of cards. The ensuing panic and pandemonium are even now… a full quarter century later, no less alarming than they must have been then,” said Justices Gautam Patel and Kamal Khata in the December 13 verdict released on Monday.
Govinda Tower was constructed on a Mhada-leased plot by Apex Gas Services Pvt Ltd. Initially, four floors were proposed and then three were added. There were two tanks of 20,000 litres above the seventh floor. The judges noted that when the building collapsed, “as many as 80 people” were injured and there were “at least 33 confirmed deaths; the number may be more, as high as 42”.
Developer Jairam Chawla of Apex Gas and hotelier Dilip Datwani had initially agreed to reconstruct the building. As the redevelopment failed, the residents moved HC in 2001, to direct Mhada and BMC to reconstruct the building and provide them with free houses. In 2009, AA Estate Pvt Ltd offered to reconstruct the building. In Feb 2014, it entered into a development agreement with the society, but thereafter nothing happened. In Aug 2022, the residents moved HC to appoint a developer of their choice. Their plea was allowed in Aug 2023. It was opposed by resolution professional (RP), appointed in insolvency proceedings against AA, saying there is a moratorium and the RP is in possession of the property.
Senior advocate Pradeep Sancheti for the society said AA had abandoned the project and the project site. The RP’s public notices did not mention the Govinda Tower project. While the RP’s reply said AA did some excavation and piling work, Sancheti showed electricity bills for a gas agency and “gas cylinders on the site”.
The judges said documents from 2012 to 2014 show some level of work, but after that till Aug 2022, “there is absolutely nothing”. Also, contemporary records show continued actual physical possession “not of the corporate debtor (AA), let alone the RP, but of Apex Gas.” “An odd entry for this or that work will not suffice…,” they added. They directed BMC and Mhada to process the society’s development proposal “without insisting on an NOC from AA Estate or its architect.”
Published On Feb 5, 2024 at 09:17 AM IST
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